This post contributed by Content & Community Specialist Heather Rast.
The early weeks of every year can be pretty symbolic. We give ourselves a pass to shirk the poor work habits of just a few weeks prior. Hopes abound that a big red “re-do” button will let us start anew on the lists of tasks gathering crumbs on the edge of the desk. A fresh start to make smart choices, and all that.
By now we know that some well-intentioned efforts falter, just as others prevail. With this realistic point of view in mind, I hope to improve your odds of saying goodbye to some small but significant hazards to leading an independent career, and instead wring a little more out of your annual planning.
Stop avoiding discussions about money. Businesses large and small have to make money, and you have the right to ask for some when giving counsel, discussing plans, and pitching in. Yes, sometimes it can be awkward to inject a clarifying statement (“Sure, I can write up some of my thoughts on that so you can review recommendations against your budget.”) but I’ve found it only gets stickier if you allow your anxiety to grow, impede interest in immersing yourself in the work, or cloud your objectivity.
Chances are, one of the things you enjoy most about being your own boss is the flexibility of managing your own time. Even while client obligations drive some aspects of scheduling, I’ve found happiness in a more fluid concept of “work hours” than I experienced as an employee. Riding tandem with my ability to walk away from my desk for a few hours is a greater importance on time management. Dare I say, when you’re working for “the man,” a bit of time at the coffee machine or digesting the latest mass-emailed joke is of little concern. When you work for yourself, it’s better to avoid those time-sucks and find shortcuts for routine chores. Working 12-hour days isn’t healthy or sustainable, and it can be hard to stop the spiral.
Hand-in-hand with making the best use of your time is the need for the right tools for the job. In the time I’ve been in business, I’ve tested and trialed my way through a fair number of tools and apps that were seemingly must-haves for solos.
I’m keeping: Freshbooks and Hootsuite. I tossed: LinkedIn Gold, Scribe SEO, Sprout Social and Zoho Projects.
In my experience the premium LinkedIn subscription didn’t net me better access or more insight. Any number of good WordPress plug-ins can rival Scribe SEO. And while Sprout Social has some neat features for finding potential connections, I’ve found at the mechanics of scheduling outweigh potential data mining. Besides, I use a BuzzStream trick for that. Oh, and Zoho Projects is like having surgery to remove a splinter. Try Asana or Get It Done! instead.
Before reading on, think about your recurring monthly expenses – what are you dragging your feet on cancelling or downgrading? If unnecessary costs add up to $25 per month, that's $300 a year you could allocate to a more worthwhile line item. Like a new ergonomic chair.
Now’s the time to stop thinking about business insurance and start retaining business insurance (trust me, I’m admonishing myself at this moment as much as advising you). Do you have life insurance? Medical insurance? So if you understand the concept of risk, why bet your assets and future earnings on any number of simple incidents that could devastate what you’re trying to build?
One of our many jobs is that of an engineer. Part of making growth plans for the business includes understanding the fundamentals – and fluctuations – of our earnings. Some of the best dollars I’ve ever spent went to tax counsel and accounting delivered by a professional. While I tried a CPA at first, I quickly realized her company’s methods and billing structure were better suited to a $8 million/year business. I turned to my local SCORE chapter and quickly got a lead on a savvy accountant who takes on the lions’ share of thinking and doing for me, and at a reasonable cost.
These are some recommendations I'd make to any indie aiming to get a leg up on 2012 planning. What would you add? What did I miss?
Hi Heather! Sad to see you go, but understand that we’re not for everyone. How do you think we could improve our scheduler so you can send out scheduled posts as well as find new customers?
Great post! If I had to add anything as a new PR pro in 2012, I would say get a mentor! I have so many questions and concerns with no one to ask :0 Fortunately I have the Solo PR blog to help get me started but it can be a beast trying to go it alone.
Ahh, great point Ashlee! Like you, I’m very happy to be part of this vibrant, smart community – I learn so much every day! I also have a person I trust as a business coach, and a strong network of professional peers I trust. I think the smartest consultants lean on one another to learn and grow. Thanks for stopping by!
Hi, Brittany. Thanks for being receptive to feedback – and my comments are purely my own, not Kellye’s. I tried Sprout Social for – let me think – 4 months or so as a paid subscriber. I have a habit of using bookmarklets as a way to quickly wade through good stuff I read and want to share. I found the SS bookmarklet to be a little clunky, and the way it renders in the lower part of the window sometimes made it difficult to select options. Not sure if this is tied to my particular setup or what. Also the dashboard and screens didn’t lend themselves to something I could keep open in the background (and thereby take advantage of reccos for new followers, etc.). So I didn’t use it much…making $19.95 per month a larger expense than I wanted to bear.
There were definitely aspects about SS I liked, but some others that led me to under utilize it. Again, some of my perception is tied to my own use habits and maybe not a fair comment on the product itself.
Thanks again for stopping by!
Absolutely! Always good to get feedback and ideas on how we can improve. In the long run, it’s what’s going to make us a better product!
Out of curiosity, when was the last time you used the bookmarklet? Was it when you first started or recently (we just came out with the new one about 2 weeks ago). Not sure why it would render differently, but mine pops up as a small window near the top. I’ll have to ask one of our guys why this would happen and if there’s a way to fix it. Definitely understand that it wouldn’t be easy to use if it was popping up lower on your screen!
Again, sorry to see you go, but understand that if the layout doesn’t match how you use a social media tool, then it might just not be a good match. Hopefully you’re willing to try us out again in the future! We’re always making improvements and tweaking things, so might fit your needs better then.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts; we really appreciate the feedback!
If you don’t mind me asking, how did you go about getting your busines coach?
Ashlee, I first came to work with my coach while a management-level employee at a software company. They saw it as an investment in my development, and a way to strengthen my ability to lead a team. That said, coaches of this sort can be costly (even while presenting a benefit) so were it not for my existing relationship (which afforded a rate discount), I wouldn’t have this connection. As an indie 14 months into self-employment, I see tremendous advantages to an opportunity like Solo PR Pro’s membership site (
https://soloprpro.com/become-a-pro-member/). The forum is a great way to pull from a collective body of experience/knowledge, the Q&A call gives individualized support (like a coaching session), and the guides/resources can take a lot of guesswork out of setting up your biz. I’d say these things even if I weren’t affiliated with Kellye. Now’s the time to become a member – before the special intro pricing is gone!
Best of luck to you.
It’s always great to see a responsive company truly interested in feedback – thanks, Brittany. Sounds like my use pre-dates the latest release and might alleviate one of the inconveniences I faced. Awesome to know about the improvement!
Thanks so much for the advice! I actually joined right after reading your post and I’m excited to get started! I really appreciate you taking the time to explain those services.